Rabbi Binyamin Krauss
Former Rosh Kollel in Perth
Parshat Chukat opens with the laws of the parah adumah (red heifer). Chazal teach that the mei afar haparah (the mixture of spring water and the ashes of the parah adumah) can even be prepared by a kohein who is tevul yom.
Let us review the various terms: When one becomes tamei (ritually impure), one waits until the tumah (ritual impurity) period has ended. The taharah (ritual purification) process involves two steps: te- vilah (immersion in a mikvah) on the designated day and then waiting for the sun to set (“ya’ariv shim- sho” – literally, “his sun will turn into evening”). One who has completed the first step but not the second is called a “tevul yom” (literally, “immersed of the day”). After the second step, one is called “me’urav shemesh”. If the specific tumah requires that one bring a korban (sacrifice), one is called “mechusar kippurim” (literally, “lacking atonement”) until the following day when the korban is offered.
Chazal (BT Yevamot 73) explain that usually a kohein who is tevul yom is considered to be still tamei; for instance, he may not eat the te- rumah. However, when it comes to serving as a mazeh (i.e. preparing the mei afar haparah), he is considered to be tahor.
In contrast, the Tzedokim disagreed and insisted that the mazeh be a me’urav shemesh and that a tevul yom is disqualified from serving as a mazeh. The Tosefta (Tractate Parah) describes how the chachamim would ensure that the kohein who burned the parah was a tevul yom, because they were afraid that the kohein was a Tzedoki who thought he had to wait for the sun to set. In fact, the Tosefta adds, a me’urav shemesh once served in this capacity. However, they threw out the resultant afar, and then a tevul yom did the job all over again.
Yet, at first glance, this attitude seems to be unwar- ranted. After all, the Tzedokim’s opinion is actually stricter than the rabbanim’s opinion. Why is it neces- sary to negate the Tzedokim’s “chumrah” (stringent approach) – to the point of not using afar which would have been completely kosher, if it was not pre- pared in accordance with the Tzedokim’s chumrah?
The simple answer is that Chazal wanted to distin- guish between the Tzedokim and the Prushim and to ensure that the Tzedokim’s chumrah did not take hold. Similarly, the Mishnah (Tractate Brachot) states that R’ Tarfon deliberately recited Kriat Shema while lying down, in accordance with Beit Shamai’s opinion. In response, his friends told him that he deserved to be punished, because the Halachah fol- lows Beit Hallel, who ruled that one does not have to lie down. In the “Mesilat Yesharim,” the Ramchal explains that this Mishnah reflects the historical sig- nificance of R’ Tarfon’s actions. In the wake of the machloket (dispute) and its resolution in Beit Hillel’s favor, acting according to Beit Shamai upsets the balance which was finally achieved and thus leads to further machloket. Hence, the stringency is to act in accordance with Beit Hillel – even though technically it may be l’kula (more lenient).
The Netziv offers a deeper insight into the machloket between the Prushim and the Tzedokim. He asserts that the machloket revolves around the essence of the afar parah adumah: Is it needed for taharah (purification) or kedushah (sanctification)? Chazal held that the afar parah adumah was for taharah only, and therefore, it could even be prepared by a tevul yom who had not yet completed the taharah process. In contrast, the Tzedokim thought that the afar parah adumah was to be used for kedushah. Therefore, they insisted that it could not be prepared without absolute taharah and thus disqualified a tevulyom.
Yet, assigning kedushah to a matter whose essence is taharah blurs the boundaries delineated by the To- rah. The Torah is very clear as to when kedushah applies and when it does not. Wishing to achieve kedushah is viewed in a positive light – as long as one remains within the Torah’s specified framework and boundaries. But to assign kedushah where the Torah does not permit is to destroy the Torah’s boundaries. The importance of this idea is indicated by Chazal’s willingness to declare that the kohein who prepared the afar haparah was tamei – in order to ensure that he was a tevul yom rather than a me’urav shemesh.
Korach’s machloket is another manifestation of eras- ing these boundaries. The two hundred and fifty men’s desire to bring the ketoret reflected their wish to assign kedushah to that which the Torah did not allow. According to the Torah, only the kohanim are permitted to bring the ketoret. Thus, when the men tried to bring the ketoret, they were immediately destroyed by a fire which came from Hashem.
We must constantly recall that our desire to serve Hashem must be tempered by our recognition of the fitting boundaries imposed by the Torah. This recog- nition ensures that we serve Hashem – rather than ourselves.